Monday, May 19, 2008

A Minor Tale of Racism

Barack Obama is poised to be the first mixed-race nominee for president of a major political party in the United States of America. His nomination is a quantum leap forward for the status of minority Americans across the country. It is also a reflection of the growing demographic changes of the United States. While Obama's story is highly unique, his racial make-up is not necessarily so. His mixed race background is the leading edge of a trend that will change the landscape of American political and social life.

There has been ample discussion about whether or not he can't win the white working-class because of underlying racism, there has been talk about his known ceiling when it comes to support from those white americans that will never vote for a black man. I know in reading these stories, I said to myself, "these must be isolated cases." Sure in some backwoods areas of the country people still feel this way, but with a little education, and a little exposure to different kinds of people, surely most Americans are open minded enough to vote for who they think is best qualified to be president.

Well this past weekend I was given a first hand example of why that is not true, why racism exists everywhere. Even in the greatest city in the world.

Those of you that know me personally know that I love to play roller hockey. I've done it since I was a kid and I'm pretty passionate about it. I recently got back into the swing of it and now I try to play 2 or 3 times a week at a rink in Queens. As I've gone more and more I've fallen in with a crowd of regulars. People I don't know very well but who come down to the rink often enough that we recognize each other and are probably on a first name basis. One of the games I play in comes on Saturday morning, around 11am.

It's always been a fun game, usually anywhere from 15-20 people show up, with a few goalies, we divide into teams and play for a while. Lately, a new group of younger players has been showing up. They are "good enough" despite their age, probably 15-18 that they get to play with us.

Despite their age and relativly small stature they could hold their own. In fact I often found myself getting frustrated that I would take them too lightly and make a mistake. They had only two things in common as far as I could tell-a deceptive speed moving with the puck and dark skin.

This past Saturday was one of the hotter we have played on this year. During a "sweat break" so the goalies could cool down I took a knee by the boards to fix my shin guard, unconsciously making myself appear anti-social. After tossing some jokes out from my kneeling position about one guys lousy wrist shot, and somebody else'w lousy stick handling one of the players I had known for a few weeks rolled over to me.

"What is this bull____?" he asked me.
"What bull____?" I replied.

He answered in a low whisper, "These kids? What are they black or Indian or what...?" I answered truthfully that I didn't know, but their names were Kevin, Tony and I didn't know the other kid. He shook his head. As I was answering, another player came over probably in time to hear me naming the kids. The two of them commiserated on how the dark-skinned kids "didn't know the game." I found myself stuck between hating where their sentiments were coming from and not wanting to get on a soap box. So as I rose from my kneeling position I said simply, "Well for not knowing the game they get around us pretty well." and then I skated away.

The point of this story is that when people are threatened by something new, by something that they don't quite understand or isn't exactly like them, they try to find ways to separate so they can attack. Whether it be on the roller rink or in the general election, people are scared of something different. There is room for hope though, despite our fears and differences, when it came time, we dropped the puck and started the game.

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